Tuesday, April 29, 2008

"Mr. Troublemaker"

As I was leafing through my Humanitas Prize-winning, Emmy-losing Mary Tyler Moore script that I retrieved from the garage, where is sat in a box next to my tax records from 1991, I am reminded of how I sometimes liked to make fun of the shows I was working on.

I don’t know why I did that. I wasn’t trying to get fired; I liked my job. It’s just how my mind works. I need something to push against. It’s also a rather juvenile form of rebellion. I can’t fire my bosses, but they can fire me, and I hate the power mismatch, so I “act out” by making fun of their show.

On their show.

Hee-hee.

Here’s what I’m talking about.

The episode I wrote, entitled “Ted’s Change of Heart”, concerns how the perennially selfish Ted Baxter is transformed into a life-affirming zealot after his world is shaken by a heart attack. When he returns to work as an on-air news anchor, instead of turf-protectingly berating his fill-in – as he unquestioningly would have before – Ted praises his replacement profusely, going so far as to suggest that they start doing the news together, as co-anchors. Acknowledging this transformation, Ted’s wife, Georgette, understatingly reports:

“Ted’s changed.”

Now here’s where I made fun of the show. The series was in the habit of having one of the show’s characters, at some point in the episode, relate an extended story, invariably employing a humorous analogy, to encapsulate the problem being played out in the episode. So that’s what I did. I told an analogizing story. But – insidious firebrand that I am – I gave it an unexpected, show-tweaking twist.

It went like this.

After Georgette’s reporting that Ted had changed, Lou Grant, incredulously asks,

“Ted, what happened to you?”

Ted replies,

“I’ve been reborn, Lou. And all because of a little spider.”

(And here comes the story.)

TED: A few days ago, I was sitting on the terrace outside our bedroom when I noticed this spider spinning its web near the screen door – patiently, skillfully, lovingly. And then Georgette opened the door and tore the web. And the spider had to build it back up…Then a little later someone else opened the door and the spider had to build it back up again…and then somebody else….

LOU: Ted…could you move it along?

TED: Sure, Lou. You see, I learned something from that little spider, who never gave up, who kept re-building his web over and over and over…I learned that life is short and you have to live for today.

(Here comes the “making fun of the show” part.)

MARY: Ted, that’s not a “live-for-today” story; it’s a “perseverance” story.

TED: It was a “perseverance” story, Mair. But it became a “live-for-today” story when I smacked that spider with my newspaper.

You see what I did there? I took a story that looked like it was making a point about perseverance and I turned it into a “live-for-today” story by having Ted smack the persevering spider with his newspaper. By changing the point of the story, I was skewering the whole analogy-using story-telling process, and by doing so

I was making fun of the series I was working on.

Was I a rebellious, little crazyman, or what? Undermining the show’s patented formula on the show. I was wild. I was incendiary. I was out. Of.

Control!

I couldn’t wait for one of my bosses to notice my devilicious sneakiness and give me a tongue-lashing for mocking The Rules and smart-assedly biting the hand that feeds me. I figured it was only a matter of time before I got what I had coming.

Nobody noticed.

They just thought it was funny.

I was crushed. “Hey, I’m a dangerous hothead! Someone should reprimand me. Somebody should take me to task!”

Nope.

That’s why I’m not a satirist. Despite my intentions, my comedy arrives, totally lacking in danger. My style is utterly bereft of edge. I won’t give up. I’ll continue my efforts as a subversive provocateur. But I don’t seem to have it in me.

No matter how hard I try.

5 comments:

incendiary genius said...

I'm gonna have to try that sexy little move of yours. Thanks for the tip!

Max Clarke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Max Clarke said...

Funny stuff. I haven't seen that episode in decades, but I was able to see Ted and Georgette and Lou and Mary play their parts.

Anonymous said...

Literally LOL. The pacing & taking its time, the building till it ultimately pays off with an even bigger laugh. A classic era. I'm sure your Taxi anecdotes will evoke similar memories, another show that wasn't against taking its sweet time.

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